After what feels like a century, SZA has finally graced us with a proper return. Since the release of her instant classic Ctrl album, which I named the 12th best album of the last decade, SZA appeared on a number of singles stretching across myriad genres. She popped up on “I Do” from Cardi B‘s Invasion of Privacy; “Staring at the Sun” from Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding; and “Just Us” from DJ Khaled’s Father of Asahd. Most notably, she collaborated with TDE labelmate Kendrick Lamar on “All the Stars,” the lead single for the Black Panther soundtrack which garnered four Grammy nominations and an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. “All the Stars” has since taken on a different and more poignant meaning following the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman.
After a particularly nasty Twitter argument with some fans (which eventually led to the #FreeSZA movement and the deactivation of SZA’s official Twitter account), SZA reappeared with a cryptic image of her posing in a field seemingly covered in blood. The caption simply read “Midnight EST.” A little over an hour later we were treated to “Hit Different,” an addictive slice of introspective R&B.
Her first official collaboration with Ty Dolla $ign, “Hit Different” is anchored by its breezy Neptunes production and SZA’s effortless cool. She slides all over the track in an ever-evolving cadence that falls somewhere between rapping and singing. The verses don’t really follow a strict pattern in terms of delivery, and it is that unpredictability that makes the track so effective and arresting. One of the elements of SZA’s music that made Ctrl such a masterpiece was her songwriting. Her lyrics exist in the tender crossroads of dense metaphor and heartbreakingly blunt truths. On “Hit Different,” she sings that she was “scared to admit my shortcomings led to overdraft in this affair, declining.” It’s a brilliant line that compares the emotional exchange of a relationship to overdrawing a bank account; the descending run on “declining” is just the cherry on top. Ty Dolla $ign makes yet another excellent appearance on a mainstream R&B track. His rich buttery tone offers a gorgeous contrast to SZA’s dreamy ethereal vocal.
As of right now, it is still unclear if this is the official lead single for SZA’s second studio album, but then again, what even makes a song an official single anymore? Regardless, “Hit Different” is an easy triumph for SZA. She’s back like she never left.